Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Holocaust Remembrance: We all wear the triangle

For a new version of this article, click
Holocaust Remembrance: We all wear the triangle




A gay priest killed in the Holocaust appears in the icon
"Holy Priest Anonymous one of Sachsenhausen"

International Holocaust Remembrance Day honors the victims of the Nazi era, including the estimated 5,000 to 60,000 sent to concentration camps for homosexuality. The United Nations set the date as Jan. 27 -- the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.

Established by the UN in 2005, International Holocaust Remembrance Day recalls the state-sponsored extermination of 6 million Jews and 11 million others deemed inferior by the Nazis, including 2.5 million Poles and other Slavic peoples, Soviet prisoners of war, Gypsies and others not of the "Aryan race," the mentally ill, the disabled, LGBT people, and religious dissidents such as Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics. Holocaust Remembrance Day aims to help prevent future genocides.

The date chosen is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, by Soviet troop on Jan. 27, 1945.

Approximcately 100,000 men were arrested from 1933 and 1945 under Paragraph 175, the German law against homosexuality. They were imprisoned or sent to concentration camps. Only about 4,000 survived.

Artists who address LGBT deaths in the holocaust (or “homocaust”) include Tony O’Connell, Mary Button, William Hart McNichols, Richard Grune, John Bittinger Klomp and those who designed the world's dozens of memorials to LGBT Holocaust victims. Their art is featured here today.

The defeat of the Nazis brought liberation for most prisoners in the concentration camps, but some of those accused of homosexuality were re-imprisoned in post-war Germany based on evidence found by the Nazis.

The world's first LGBT Holocaust memorial was the Homomonument, opened in 1987 in the Netherlands. Queer British artist Tony O’Connell made a photo and video record of his prayers and offerings at the Homomonument in Amsterdam on Christmas Day 2014 as part of his contemporary performance art series of LGBT pilgrimages.

Holocaust Memorial Pilgrimage to Homomonument in Amsterdam by Tony O'Connell

O'Connell visits historical sites such as to the Harvey Milk Metro station in San Francisco, New York City's Stonewall Inn, and the Alan Turing Memorial Bench in Manchester. Democratizing the idea of sacredness and reclaiming the holiness in ordinary life, especially in LGBT experience, are major themes in O'Connell's work. Based in Liverpool, O’Connell was raised in the Roman Catholic church, but has been a practicing Buddhist since 1995. For more info about O’Connell’s art, see my previous post Codebreaker Alan Turing honored in queer pilgrimage by artist Tony O’Connell.

Persecution of LGBT people during the Holocaust is juxtaposed with Jesus falling under the weight of his cross in the image at the top of this post: Station 3 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button. The painting features headshots of men who were arrested for homosexuality under Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code and sent to concentration camps between 1933 and 1945.

Jesus falls the first time and Nazis ban homosexual groups in Station 3 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button, courtesy of Believe Out Loud

Using bold colors and collage, Button puts Jesus' suffering into a queer context by matching scenes from his journey to Golgotha with milestones from the last 100 years of LGBT history. For an overview of all 15 paintings in the LGBT Stations series, see my article LGBT Stations of the Cross shows struggle for equality.

Richard Grune, a Bauhuas-trained German artist sent to Nazi concentration camps for homosexuality, also saw a connection between Christ’s Passion and the suffering of people in the camps. After being imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Flossenbürg, he created “Passion of the 20th Century,” a set of lithographs depicting the nightmare of life in the camps. Published in 1947, it is considered one of the most important visual records of the camps to appear in the immediate postwar years.

“Solidarity.” Richard Grune lithograph from a limited edition series “Passion des XX Jahrhunderts” (Passion of the 20th Century). Grune was prosecuted under Paragraph 175 and from 1937 until liberation in 1945 was incarcerated in concentration camps. In 1947 he produced a series of etchings detailing what he witnessed in the camps. Grune died in 1983. (Credit: Courtesy Schwules Museum, Berlin) (US Holocaust Museum)




Willem Ardondeus
A gay Dutch artist who died in the Holocaust was Willem Arondeus (Aug. 22, 1894 - July 1, 1943). He participated in the anti-Nazi resistance movement with openly lesbian cellist Frieda Belinfante and others. Arondeus was openly gay before World War II began and proudly asserted his queer identity in his last message before his execution: “Let it be known that homosexuals are not cowards.”  His life and art are featured in a YouTube video.

The Nazis also denounced and attacked lesbians, but usually less severely and less systematically than they persecuted male homosexuals. Their history is told online in the article Lesbians and the Third Reich at the US Holocaust Museum. Some lesbians claim the black triangle as their symbol. The Nazis imposed the black triangle on people who were sent to concentration camps for being “anti-social.”

Identification pictures of Henny Schermann, a shop assistant in Frankfurt am Main. In 1940 police arrested Henny, who was Jewish and a lesbian, and deported her to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp for women. She was killed in 1942. Ravensbrueck, Germany, 1941. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives)

Nazis used the pink triangle to identify male prisoners sent to concentration camps for homosexuality. Originally intended as a badge of shame, the pink triangle has become a symbol of pride for the LGBT rights movement.

A recent painting on the theme is “Pink Triangle” by John Bittinger Klomp, a gay artist based in Florida.

“Pink Triangle” by John Bittinger Klomp, 2012

“The Pink Triangle was part of the system of triangles used by the Nazis during World War II to denote various peoples they deemed undesirable, and included Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals,” Klomp said. The painting is part of his “Gay Dictionary Series” on words and symbols related to being gay.

The pink triangle appears in a variety of monuments that have been built around the world to commemorate LBGT victims of the Nazi regime. In January 2014 Israel's first memorial for LGBT victims of the Holocaust was unveiled in Tel Aviv. Since 1984, more than 20 gay Holocaust memorials have been established in places ranging from San Francisco to Sydney, from Germany to Uruguay. Some are in the actual concentration camp sites, such as the plaque for gay victims in Dachau pictured below.

Plaque for gay victims at Dachau concentration camp by nilexuk


To see powerful photos of all the queer Holocaust memorials and read the stories behind them, visit:
http://andrejkoymasky.com/mem/holocaust/ho08.html

The logo for the Jesus in Love Blog also shows the face of Jesus in a pink triangle. He joins queer people in transforming suffering into power.

The last surviving man to wear the pink triangle in the concentration camps was Rudolf Brazda, who died in 2011 at age 98. His story is told in his obituary at the New York Times.

Another of those who wore the pink triangle was an anonymous 60-year-old gay priest, brutally beaten to death because he refused to stop praying at the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen, Germany. Eyewitness Heinz Heger reported that the murder was so brutal that “I felt I was witnessing the crucifixion of Christ in modern guise.”

The priest is honored in the icon at the top of this post, “Holy Priest Anonymous One of Sachsenhausen.” It was painted by Father William Hart McNichols, a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who was rebuked by church leaders for making LGBT-affirming icons of unapproved saints. His Anonymous Priest of Sachsenhausen icon appears in his book “The Bride: Images of the Church,” which he co-authored with peace activist Daniel Berrigan.

Here is the beginning of his tragic story, as told by Heger in his book The Men With the Pink Triangle.

Toward the end of February, 1940, a priest arrived in our block, a man some 60 years of age, tall and with distinguished features. We later discovered that he came from Sudetenland, from an aristocratic German family.

He found the torment of the arrival procedure especially trying, particularly the long wait naked and barefoot outside the block. When his tonsure was discovered after the shower, the SS corporal in charge took up a razor and said "I'll go to work on this one myself, and extend his tonsure a bit." And he saved the priest's head with the razor, taking little trouble to avoid cutting the scalp. quite the contrary.

The priest returned to the day-room of our lock with his head cut open and blood streaming down. His face was ashen and his eyes stared uncomprehendingly into the distance. He sat down on a bench, folded his hands in his lap and said softly, more to himself than to anyone else: "And yet man is good, he is a creature of God!"

The book goes on to recount in heartbreaking detail how the Nazis tortured the priest, hurling anti-gay slurs and beating him to death. More excerpts are available at the Queering the Church Blog in a post titled The Priest With the Pink Triangle.

The award-winning 1979 play “Bent” by Martin Sherman helped increase awareness of Nazi persecution of gays, leading to more historical research and education. A film version of “Bent” was made in 1997 with an all-star British cast including Clive Owen, Mick Jagger and Jude Law. Its title comes from the European slang word “bent” used as a slur for homosexuals.

The 2000 documentary film “Paragraph 175” tells the stories of several gay men and one lesbian who were persecuted by the Nazis, including interviews with some of the last survivors.

In recent years new memoirs of gay Holocaust survivors have been published and queer theory has brought new understanding of the Gay Holocaust as not just atrocities, but also a system of social control. Valuable books include:

I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual: A Memoir of Nazi Terror by Pierre Seel (2011)

Lost Intimacies: Rethinking Homosexuality under National Socialism by William J. Spurlin (2008)

An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin by Gad Beck (2000)

"The Hidden Holocaust?: Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany 1933-45” by Gunter Grau (1995)

The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals by Richard Plant (1988) -- first comprehensive book on the subject

Homosexuality d Male Bonding in Pre-Nazi Germany: The Youth Movement, the Gay Movement, and Male Bonding Before Hitler’s Rise” by Hubert Kennedy (1992)

Josef Jaeger by Jere' M Fishback (young adult novel based partly on the life of Jürgen Ohlsen, Nazi propaganda film star who turned out to be gay)


International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed here with the prayer “We All Wear the Triangle” by Steve Carson. It appears in the book “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations.” Carson was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served congregations in New York, Boston and San Francisco.
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One: We are in many ways a culture without memory. The Holocaust, a series of events that occurred just over a generation ago, changed the world forever. Yet by some the Holocaust is forgotten, or seen as irrelevant, or even viewed as something that never happened.

All: As people of faith, we refuse to forget. We refuse to participate in the erasing of history. As a community of faith, we decide to remember, as we hear the historical record from Europe a generation ago and reflect upon events in our own time. We dare to listen to the voices of the past, even as they echo today.

One: In this moment, we are all Jews wearing the yellow Star of David.

All: We are all homosexuals wearing the pink triangle.

One: We are all political activists wearing the red triangle.

All: We are all criminals wearing the green triangle.

One: We are all antisocials wearing the black triangle.

All: We are all Jehovah’s Witnesses wearing the purple triangle.

One: We are all emigrants wearing the blue triangle.

All: We are all gypsies wearing the brown triangle.

One: We are all undesirable, all extendable by the state.

…Leader: To God of both memory and hope, we pledge ourselves to be a people of resistance to the powers of death wherever they may appear, to honor the living and the dead, and to make with them our promise: Never again!

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Related links:

Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals 1933-45 (US Holocaust Museum)

Lesbians and the Third Reich (US Holocaust Museum)

Pink Triangle at the Legacy Walk

Persecution of Homosexuals in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust (Wikipedia)

Holocaust Memorial Day: The Nazi Bid to Exterminate Gay People by Peter Tatchell (Huffington Post)

Sachsenhausen (Counterlight’s Peculiars).

The Holocaust's Forgotten Victims: The 5 Million Non-Jewish People Killed By The Nazis by Louise Ridley (Huffington Post)

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, events in LGBTQ history, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.




Tuesday, January 26, 2016

David Kato: Ugandan LGBT rights activist and martyr

“David Kato” by Rod Byatt

David Kato, Ugandan LGBT rights activist, is considered a father of Uganda’s gay rights movement. He was beaten to death on this date (Jan. 26, 2011) in a case that some blame on anti-gay religious rhetoric.

David Kato
It is especially important to carry on Kato’s legacy now with legal rights diminishing for LGBT people in many places across the Africa. Laws against homosexuality made news n Africa countries such as Uganda, Nigeria and Gambia. (See links at the end of this article.)

Many have heard of the 45 Ugandan Martyrs who were killed for their Christian faith and canonized as saints. Kato can be seen as a new kind of Ugandan martyr, killed for the cause of LGBT equality.

American evangelicals helped stir up the hostility that led to Kato’s death because they promoted a law imposing the death penalty for homosexuality. The influence of the US evangelical movement in promoting the anti-homosexuality law is explored in the award-winning 2013 documentary “God Loves Uganda.” Watch the trailer below or on YouTube.



Shortly before his murder, Kato won a lawsuit against a Ugandan magazine for identifying him as gay and calling for his execution. Kato’s murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but the anti-gay motive for the murder was covered up in the trial.

A documentary about Kato, “Call Me Kuchu,” premiered in 2012 at the Berlin Film Festival. Watch the trailer for the video below.  "Kuchu" is the term used in Uganda for LGBT people.


Call Me Kuchu - Trailer from Call Me Kuchu on Vimeo.

Below is a news video about Kato from “The Rachel Maddow Show.” It includes scenes from Kato’s funeral, where Ugandan clergy speak both for and against LGBT rights, and David’s own voice in an NPR interview about homosexuality in Uganda.

Hope for change is expressed in the 2016 book “In Defense of All God's Children: The Life and Ministry of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo.” It is the life story of Uganda’s bishop who advocated for LGBTQ rights. He is featured in the film “God Loves Uganda.” After his retirement as an Anglican bishop in 1998, Senyonjo started a counseling practice. His compassion and understanding of human sexuality soon attracted LGBTQ clients. His faith compelled him to speak out against Uganda’s proposed death penalty and other harsh policies for LGBTQ people, risking his life for justice. Now at age 83, he has written a highly readable memoir revealing the unlikely and inspiring path that led him to international activism for LGBTQ rights in Uganda, in the Anglican communion, and around the world.

Australian artist Rod Byatt drew the portrait of David Kato above. The stark, unfinished quality of the portrait conveys the sense of a life cut short. Byatt posted it on his blog **gasp!** (Gay Artists’ Sketchbook Project) with a reflection that begins, “We grieve over the loss of David Kato. We know that being gay is anathema to Family, Church and State, and increasingly The Media...” Byatt is part of the Urban Sketching movement that seeks to link personal identity to broader social issues.

On the anniversary of his murder, may those who honor David Kato’s legacy continue to work for justice and equality for all. May he find peace with all the other LGBT martyrs and saints who have gone before.



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Related links:

Portrait of David Kato by Random Salmon

David Kato Kisule at the Legacy Project

Uganda Martyrs raise questions on homosexuality, religion and LGBT rights (Jesus in Love)

They will say we are not here (New York Times, Jan. 25, 2012)

In Uganda, a “Fearless Voice” for Gay Rights is Brutally Silenced (Wild Reed Blog)

David Kato: A new Ugandan martyr (Queer Saints and Martyrs - And Others)

Martyrs of Uganda (Walking with Integrity Blog)

Ugandan Activist David Kato Never to be Forgotten (O-blog-dee-o-blog-da)


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Recent news reports on anti-gay laws in Africa

Report: Anti-LGBT persecution increased under Uganda law (Washington Blade 2016)

Mapping anti-gay laws in Africa (Amnestry International)

Uganda planning new anti-gay law despite opposition (BBC.com)

Another African nation to enact anti-gay law (Gambia) (msnbc.com)

Nigeria Tries to ‘Sanitize’ Itself of Gays (New York Times)

Shock Amongst Gays in Nigeria as President signs Jail-The-Gays law (O-blog-dee-o-blog-da)


This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.





Monday, January 25, 2016

Welcome: Jesus in Love Blog has a new look


Welcome to the new look of the Jesus in Love Blog.

The blog is now upgraded to a cool new “template” that should make it more accessible to readers who use mobile devices. It’s also wider to fit today’s most common computer screens.

The new template uses purple and lavender, colors that are often associated with LGBTQ people.

Please let me know what you think about the new format.

Here is a screen shot of the old look so you can see the difference.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Saint Sebastian: History’s first gay icon

“Self Portrait as Saint Sebastian” by Christopher Olwage

“Homage to Sebastian” by Tony De Carlo

Saint Sebastian has been called history’s first gay icon and the patron saint of homosexuals. His feast day is today (Jan. 20).

Sebastian was an early Christian martyr killed in 288 on orders from the Roman emperor Diocletian. He is the subject of countless artworks that show him being shot with arrows. Little is known about his love life, so his long-standing popularity with gay men is mostly based on the way he looks.

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Saint Sebastian: History’s first gay icon?

Starting in the Renaissance, Sebastian has been painted many times as a near-naked youth writing in a mixture of pleasure and pain. The homoeroticism is obvious.


“Saint Sebastian”by Il Sodoma, 1525 (Wikimedia Commons)

Two contemporary artists did new LGBT-affirming works based on Saint Sebastian in 2015. Gay New Zealand artist Christopher Olwage painted a self-portrait as Sebastian (at the top of this post) for his “Ecce Homo” exhibit inviting viewers to consider the possibility of a gay Jesus.

Queer British artist Tony O’Connell sculpted a life-size statue of Sebastian and filmed his dramatic interactions with the figure to make a strong statement against homophobic violence in a performance art piece for All Saints Day. It includes a “Litany of the Queer Saints” that calls upon Sebastian to pray for and protect the downtrodden:

Tony O'Connell prepares to kiss St Sebastian in his new film

“St. Sebastian, who strengthens the persecuted Pray for us…
St. Sebastian empowered to protect from plague and AIDS, Pray for us…
St Sebastian, loved and then abandoned by the Roman Emperor, Pray for us.
St. Sebastian, loved and increasingly abandoned by the Roman Church, Pray for us
St. Sebastian, Loved by our people, Pray for us…
Glorious Martyr and undefeated warrior,
we ask that you protect the persecuted
from tyrants and enemies.
Use your unstoppable energy
not to punish but only to humble
those who dedicate themselves to oppression and evil.”
For the whole litany and more info, see my previous post New art film highlights queer saints, Sebastian and homophobic violence for All Saints Day.

St Sebastian is martyred by arrows in O'Connell's film

Other blogs have already compiled the St. Sebastian masterpieces from art history, so the Jesus in Love Blog simply posts one example and refers readers to the best of many online collections of Sebastian art:
Saint Sebastian: The Homoerotic Patron of Gay Men (Artwork I Love Blog)

The historical Sebastian actually survived the arrow attack and was nursed back to health by Saint Irene of Rome, only to be “martyred twice” when the emperor executed him later.

In addition to his longstanding but unofficial status as patron saint of gay men, Sebastian is known as a protector against plague and a patron saint of soldiers, archers and athletes.

“Saint Sebastian” by Rick Herold

Saint Sebastian is a favorite subject of contemporary gay artist Tony De Carlo (1956-2014), whose work is at the top of this post. He began his ongoing Sebastian series in the 1980s in response to the AIDS crisis. It has grown to more than 40 pictures.

“I chose him because he was known as the Patron Protector Saint Against the Plague, as the Plague was sweeping Europe,” De Carlo said in an interview with the Jesus in Love Blog. “It wasn't until the year 2001 when I went into a Catholic store in New Mexico, picked up a pewter statue of Saint Sebastian, and saw a label on the bottom that said ‘Patron Saint of Homosexuals.’”

Sebastian is also referenced frequently in the gay literary world. For example playwright Tennessee Williams named his martyred gay character Sebastian in “Suddenly, Last Summer,” and Oscar Wilde used Sebastian as his own alias after his release from prison.

An important film biography for many gay men today is “Sebastiane,” directed by British independent filmmaker Derek Jarman. The Latin-language 1976 film was controversial for its homoeroticism and is considered a landmark of LGBT cinema. A YouTube clip shows its beautiful style.



The painting at the top of this post is by California gay artist Rick Herold. He places Saint Sebastian against a colorful, cartoon-like backdrop reminiscent of gay artist / activist Keith Haring. “I over the years as a painter have been interested in the idea of the spirit and the flesh as one -- began by Tantric art influences and then using my Catholic background,” he told the Jesus in Love Blog. He paints with enamel on the reverse side of clear plexiglas.

Herold has a bachelor of arts degree in art and theology from the Benedictine Monastic University of St. John in Minnesota and a master of fine arts degree from Otis Institute of Art in Los Angeles. His religious artwork included a Stations of the Cross commissioned by Bob Hope for a church in Ohio before a conflict over modern art with the Los Angeles cardinal led to disillusionment with the church. Herold came out as gay and turned to painting male nudes and homoerotica.

“Saint Sebastian and Matt Shepard Juxtaposed” by JR Leveroni

“Saint Sebastian and Matt Shepard Juxtaposed” by JR Leveroni compares Sebastian’s martyrdom with the killing of a contemporary gay martyr, Matthew Shepard (1976-1998). Shepard was a student at the University of Wyoming when he was brutally beaten and left to die by two men who later claimed that they were driven temporarily insane by “gay panic.” His murder led to broadening the US hate-crimes law to cover violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Leveroni is an emerging visual artist living in South Florida. Painting in a Cubist style, he portrays the suffering gay martyrs in a subdued way with barely a trace of blood. A variety of male nudes and religious paintings can be seen on Leveroni’s website.
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Related links:

The Allure of St. Sebastian (Wild Reed)

Not Dead Yet: St Sebastian as Role Model (Queering the Church)

New art film by Tony O'Connell highlights queer saints, Sebastian and homophobic violence for All Saints Day (Jesus in Love)

The Martyrdom Of Saint Sebastian, In Ascending Order Of Sexiness And Descending Order Of Actual Martyring (The Toast)

James Fenton on the lure of Saint Sebastian (Guardian)

Yukio Mishima and St. Sebastian (Partially Examined Life)


Peter Hujar Dreaming” (St. Sebastian image by David Wojnarowicz - warning: sexually explicit)

St. Sebastian (LGBT Catholic Handbook)

San Sebastián: Historia de icono gay primero (Santos Queer)


This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.



Thursday, January 14, 2016

RIP David Bowie: Queer messiah figure of LGBT liberation, music and art


I celebrate the life of David Bowie, genderbending British singer-songwriter, rock icon and actor who died Jan. 10 at age 69. He was my most important early queer spiritual artistic inspiration -- a prototype for my later visions of the queer Christ.

And he moved the whole society toward acceptance of LGBT people. Bowie proved that a man can be intensely feminine and changed public perceptions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Several readers pointed out a resemblance between Bowie and the contemporary gay Jesus painted by Doug Blanchard in our book “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision.” The 24 paintings show Jesus as a young urban hipster in modern dress as he faces his arrest, trial, death and resurrection. Maybe I didn’t notice the similarity myself because the Jesus of my private meditation often looks like Bowie. But the likeness shows in the photo (above) that I took of my vintage Bowie cassette tapes with a page from the Passion book.

It’s true that for me as a teenager growing up in Iowa, Bowie embodied the archetype of the misunderstood queer messiah… although the salvation he promised was based on rock music (Ziggy Stardust) or alien technology (in “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”) The inspiration that I found in Bowie became the foundation for my later understanding of the queer Christ.

Actually in “The Last Temptation of Christ,”” Bowie played not Jesus, but governor Pontius Pilate, who interrogates the would-be messiah in this video clip.



My vocation now is to write about LGBTQ spirituality and the arts, and Bowie had all three aspects when I was a teen searching for role models: a cool queer persona, an artistic sensibility and strong visual style, and what I perceived as a subtle spiritual quality. All of this was while I was still an unbaptized secular person, albeit with spiritual inclinations.

When asked to choose the “walkout song” for my Queer Clergy Trading Card last year, I picked a Bowie tune. His “Oh! You Pretty Things” expresses how I felt when I walked out to preach at the predominantly LGBT Metropolitan Community Churches, especially during the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s. I saw the people in the congregation as beautiful, even though they were condemned as sinners by many churches and “driving their mamas and papas insane” with their gender nonconformity.

Saint David Bowie candle from GrannysHopeChest

Sexuality
Bowie came out as gay in an interview in 1972, when it was far from cool. That was only three years after Stonewall. Elton John and Freddie Mercury were still in the closet. Rumors reached all the way to Iowa hinting that he had a sexual relationship with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. Bowie seemed to be one of us. He projected otherness.

In a 1976 Playboy interview Bowie described himself as bisexual. His sexual experimentation and desire to break moral taboos were real, although in 1983 he claimed, “I was always a closet heterosexual” and regretted his declaration of bisexuality as “the biggest mistake I ever made.”

His coming out was important even if it turned out to be an artistic statement or publicity stunt, because all the world-famous musicians who were really gay were still afraid to admit their homosexuality in public. Bowie took a risk and helped clear the way.

He may not have actually been gay, but he did experience some homophobia. Bowie reported that he lost opportunities to perform because of his self-proclaimed bisexuality. “America is a very puritanical place, and I think it stood in the way of so much I wanted to do,” he said in a 2002 interview.

His refusal to be labeled or stick to any one label seems strikingly contemporary.

How gay did Bowie really seem back in 1972? Check out the 1972 video of Bowie draping his arm suggestively around guitarist Mick Ronson while singing “Starman” (from his “Hunky Dory” album) on the British primetime show “Top of the Pops.” Homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. (They de-listed it in 1973.)



Religion
Bowie told a reporter that he was bothered by being “not quite an atheist,” and yet religious leaders offered tributes to him when he died. Even the Vatican had some praise for him, tweeting his lyrics and declaring him “never banal.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told the BBC, “I’m very, very saddened to hear of his death. I remember sitting and listening to his songs endlessly in the ‘70s particularly, and always really relishing what he was, what he did, the impact he had.”

Before becoming a rock star, Bowie explored various religions, including Christianity. He studied Tibetan Buddhism for four years starting when he was 13.  He considered becoming a monk, but his guru urged him to follow music because he could benefit others more that way.

He confessed to having “a passion for the visual in religious rituals,” which he expressed in the dramatic flair of his costumes, cover art, and the sets and staging of his concerts and music videos.

In a 2005 interview he revealed that his spiritual quest continued through his music: “Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing. Always.”"

Bowie knelt and led thousands in the Lord’s Prayer at the 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute concert captured on video.


Dear God - PLEASE BLESS David Bowie FOR THIS... by kneepadsphysical

Favorite albums
My life partner Audrey said that one reason she fell in love with me was that I had David Bowie and Chopin tapes next to each other in my cassette drawer at college. Bowie had a HUGE impact on me as a teenager, bringing what we would now call a queer sensibility to a budding lesbian growing up in Iowa and getting me through high school.

I can’t choose my favorite Bowie song because I love so many so much. I can’t even choose my favorite Bowie ALBUM! Here are my top three, in chronological order.

Hunky Dory” (1971) includes songs about the underground world of drag queens (“Queen Bitch”) and my favorite artist Andy Warhol. When I fell in love with Audrey, so many songs on this album expressed our moods: “Kooks” proclaimed happily, “If you stay with us you’re gonna be pretty kooky too.” “Fill Your Heart” rejoiced that “Love cleans the mind and makes it Free.”

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars” (1972) is about a bisexual rock star / prophet who prepares the way for extra-terrestrials who will come to save the Earth. Bowie’s own explanation of the Ziggy Stardust album: “I wanted to define the archetype of the messiah rock star.”

Listening to “Ziggy Stardust” again, I am struck by how many religious references he did make -- to priests, God and church. My walkout song “Oh! You Pretty Things” is on this album.

The song “Five Years” is like a Buddhist lovingkindness litany for “all things without exception” as he sings about trying to take in everything before the Earth dies in five years:
I heard telephones, opera house, favorite melodies
I saw boys, toys electric irons and T.V.'s
My brain hurt like a warehouse, it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I'd need so many people

Aladdin Sane” (1973) had an amazing androgynous cover image of Bowie with red hair. My favorite song on this album has always been “Time.”

I drifted away from Bowie later as he went through many “Ch-ch-changes” (another great Bowie hit song) and distanced himself from his genderfluid personae.

New and final album: Blackstar
I like that Bowie did a final album (Blackstar) designed to be released when he died, dealing with his own deathbed and the transition to heaven. It shows he was a real artist who used every life experience as fuel for his artistic expression. His collaborator called it a “parting gift.”

Bowie showed me how to grow up queer. Now he’s showing me how to face death and go to heaven.

Particularly striking is the song “Lazarus,” an obvious reference to the Biblical Lazarus whom Jesus loved and raised from the dead. Bowie, face bandaged, opens by singing from his hospital bed in the Lazarus video:

Look up here, I'm in heaven
I've got scars that can't be seen
I've got drama, can't be stolen
Everybody knows me now.

“Blackstar” was released on Bowie’s 69th birthday, just two days before he died. May this music icon be welcomed to heaven by the other LGBTQ saints whose lives are honored here at the Jesus in Love Blog.  As he sang in “Space Oddity” (his first US hit song): “May God’s love be with you.”



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Related links:

David Bowie: Queer Messiah (Wild Reed)

LGBT People Reveal Why David Bowie Was So Important To Them (Buzzfeed.com)

How David Bowie Sexually Liberated Us All (Daily Beast)

In Memory of My Great Gay Saint, David Bowie (pitchfork.com)

That time David Bowie almost became a Buddhist monk — and what he said (and sang) about that time (lionsroar.com)

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This post is part of the LGBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.



Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Aelred of Rievaulx: Gay saint of friendship

St. Aelred of Rievaulx
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, www.trinitystores.com

Aelred of Rievaulx (1109-1167) is considered one of the most lovable saints, the patron saint of friendship and also, some say, a gay saint. His feast day is today (Jan. 12).

Aelred was the abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in England. His treatise “On Spiritual Friendship” is still one of the best theological statements on the connection between human love and spiritual love. “God is friendship… He who abides in friendship abides in God, and God in him,” he wrote, paraphrasing 1 John 4:16.

Aelred’s own deep friendships with men are described in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality by Yale history professor John Boswell. “There can be little question that Aelred was gay and that his erotic attraction to men was a dominant force in his life,” Boswell wrote.

Boswell’s account inspired the members of the LGBT Episcopal group Integrity to name Aelred as their patron saint. Click here for the full story on how they won recognition for their gay saint.

Aelred certainly advocated chastity, but his passions are clear in his writing. He describes friendship with eloquence in this often-quoted passage from his treatise On Spiritual Friendship:

“It is no small consolation in this life to have someone who can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow... with whose spiritual kisses, as with remedial salves, you may draw out all the weariness of your restless anxieties. A man who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity you can lead into the depths of your heart; . . . where the sweetness of the Spirit flows between you, where you so join yourself and cleave to him that soul mingles with soul and two become one.”

Aelred supported friendships between monks, comparing them to the love between Jesus and his beloved disciple, and between Jonathan and David in his treatise on spiritual friendship. Louis Crompton, professor of English at the University of Nebraska, reports in Homosexuality and Civilization that Aelred allowed the monks at his Yorkshire monastery to express affection by holding hands, a practice discouraged by other abbots.

Aelred’s writings are discussed extensively in a 2015 book by a prominent evangelical scholar in the new celibate LGBT Christian movement. Wesley Hill writes about friendship as a spiritual path, offering practical ways for building stronger friendships in Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian.”

The icon of Saint Aelred at the top of this post was painted by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons.  He faces controversy for his icons depicting same-sex couples. His Aelred image includes a banner with Aelred’s words, “Friend cleaving to friend in the spirit of Christ.”

“Aelred of Rievaulx” by Tobias Haller

A bright-eyed icon of Aelred was sketched by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

Another portrait of Aelred was drawn during his own lifetime. Aelred perches on an illuminated alphabet in the medieval manuscript "De Speculo Caritatis" “Mirror of Charity.”

Portrait of Aelred of Rievaulx from “Mirror of Charity” medieval manuscript, circa 1140 (Wikimedia Commons)

Queer theologian Hugo Cordova Quero writes about Aelred in his scholarly article "Friendship with Benefits: A Queer Reading of Aelred of Rievaulx and His Theology of Friendship.” It is included in “The Sexual Theologian: Essays on Sex, God and Politics,” edited by Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood.

Quero quotes and analyzes Aelred’s words from “Mirror of Charity” on the death of his first close friend, a fellow monk named Simon: “I grieve for my most beloved, for the one-in-heart with me…” He goes on to explore Aelred’s subsequent love for an unnamed monk, putting his attachments to men into historical context with queer perspective. Click here to view the article online.

Brother and Lover: Aelred of Rievaulx,” by Brian Patrick McGuire is a charming chronological account that traces the homoerotic impulse in Aelred’s life. McGuire, a history professor in Denmark, tells the story with a personal and informal writing style.

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Related links:

12th January: St Aelred of Rievaulx, Patron of Same Sex Intimacy (Queer Saints and Martyrs -- and Others)

A St. Aelred Catechism (Walking with Integrity Blog)

Worship resources for Saint Aelred (Integrity USA)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:

San Elredo de Rievaulx: Santos gay de amistad

To read this post in Italian, go to
Aelredo di Rievaulx: il santo gay dell’amicizia (Gionata.org)

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Icons of St. Aelred and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores



Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts



Friday, January 08, 2016

Jeanne Manford: PFLAG founder who loved her gay son

Jeanne Manford in 1993 with a photo of her gay son Morty

Jeanne Manford loved her gay son so much that she founded Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). She died on this date (Jan. 8, 2013) at age 92.

Her son, the late Morty Manford, was beaten during a gay rights protest in April 1972.  She responded by writing a letter to the New York Post stating, “I have a homosexual son, and I love him.” A couple months later she and her son marched in New York's Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade. These actions and the support she received led to the founding of PFLAG in 1973.

PFLAG has grown to 350 chapters with 200,000 members, and Jeanne Manford is an inspiration to many. President Obama talked about her in his 2009 speech to the Human Rights Campaign National Dinner in 2009.

Thank you, Jeanne, for your courage and your love! You are counted among the LGBT saints for the huge positive impact that you had on queer people and straight allies everywhere.

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Related links:

Jeanne Manford, 92, Who Stood Up for Her Gay Son, Inspiring Others, Dies (New York Times)

PFLAG Founder Jeanne Manford Dies at 92 (Advocate)

PFLAG.org

Patron saints for straight allies of LGBT people: Adele Starr of PFLAG and others (Jesus in Love)

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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Epiphany: Three kings or three queens?

“Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie, copyright 2003.
www.janetmckenzie.com
Collection of Barbara Marian, Harvard, IL

Reimagining the three kings as queer or female gives fresh meaning to Epiphany, a holiday celebrating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. It is observed on Jan. 6.

The word “epiphany” also refers to a sudden, intuitive perception. By looking at the Bible and church history from a LGBT viewpoint, people can experience new insights -- their own personal “epiphanies” of understanding. New interpretations of the wise ones known as the Magi include:
  • Queer Magi. LGBT church leaders suggest that the Magi were eunuchs -- people who today would be called gay, queer or transgender.
  • Female Magi appear in a controversial painting by Janet McKenzie. Epiphany is also known as Women’s Christmas.
  • Queer gifts are presented to the Christ child in an icon by William Hart McNichols.
Queer Magi

Although they are often called the “three kings,” the Magi stand in contrast to worldly King Herod who sought world domination by massacring the “holy innocents” who might grow up to take his throne. The wise Magi who followed the star to find the newborn Jesus were wizards who provide a higher wisdom and astrologists with expertise in cosmic balance.

The Magi played the shamanic role often filled by eunuchs, an ancient term for LGBT people, says Nancy Wilson in her book Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures.” She writes:

“They were Zoroastrian priests, astrologers, magicians, ancient shamans from the courts of ancient Persia. They were the equivalent of Merlin of Britain. They were sorcerers, high-ranking officials, but not kings—definitely not kings. But quite possibly, they were queens. We’ve always pictured them with elaborate, exotic, unusual clothing—quite festive, highly decorated and accessorized! …Also, the wise eunuchs, shamans, holy men were the only ones who had the forethought to go shopping before they visited the baby Jesus!

They also have shamanistic dreams. They deceive evil King Herod and actually play the precise role that many other prominent eunuchs play in the Bible: they rescue the prophet, this time the Messiah of God, and foil the evil royal plot against God’s anointed.”

The concept of the queer Magi is amplified by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, author of Omnigender. “My guess is that they were people who today would be termed transwomen,” she writes in the brochure “Gender Identity and Our Faith Communities.”

Eunuchs and cross-dressers were surprisingly common in the Mediterranean world of the Bible and later. By happy coincidence, a cross-dressing saint happens to have a feast day on Jan. 5, the day before Epiphany. Apollinaria of Egypt, put on men’s clothing and presented herself as a eunuch named Dorotheos in order to live as a monk.

Three stylish Magi wear fabulous outfits on a 1972 German Christmas stamp (Wikimedia Commons)

Female Magi
Female Magi have been envisioned by artists in a gender-bending move that sometimes causes controversy. Epiphany itself is celebrated as “Women’s Christmas” (Nollaig na mBan) in Ireland, where men assume the household duties for the day so women can celebrate together at the end of the holiday season.

A multi-racial trio of female Magi visits the baby Jesus and his mother in “Epiphany” by Vermont artist Janet McKenzie. Instead of the traditional three kings or three wise men, the artist re-interprets the Magi as wise women from around the world.

Jan Richardson, an artist and Methodist minister in Florida, also portrays the Magi as women of different races in “Wise Women Also Came,” an image that appears on the cover of her book “Sacred Journeys: A Woman's Book of Daily Prayer.”

The unconventional portrayal of the Magi makes good theological sense. Barbara Marian, who commissioned the McKenzie painting, explains: “The story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew allowed the Jewish followers of Jesus to imagine the unthinkable -- God’s grace extending to the outsiders, the gentiles. Who are the outsiders in our world? Can we imagine the favor of God extending beyond the human boundaries of race, class, nationality, ethnicity, religious devotion, and gender?”

Marian commissioned “Epiphany” for the Nativity Project, which revisits and revitalizes the Gospel with new images of women. “It’s easy to get so caught up in regal images of Matthew’s night visitors that we miss the core message -- Christ for all people,” Marian says.

Conservative Christians protested against the inclusive “Epiphany” in 2007 when it appeared on the Christmas cards of the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, Texas, sent a notice to clergy and 2007 convention delegates condemning Jefferts Schori for her choice of art. “Happy Multicultural Feminist Celebration Day,” sneered the headline of a traditional Anglican blog where nearly 100 comments were posted condemning the image as “stupid,” “faux-nouveau hipster theology” and worse. For more info, see my previous post Conservatives blast inclusive Christmas card.

McKenzie denies the accusations that she is trying to be divisive and rewrite scripture. “Of course this is as far from my thinking as possible,” she says. “I feel called to create sacred and secular art that includes and celebrates those systematically ignored, relegated and minimized, and for the most part that is women and people of color.”

The artist continues to be amazed that her loving images provoke so much anger. “Even this gentle image of a loving Holy Mother and Child, with no agenda except to include and honor us as the nurturing feminine beings we are, surrounded in community with other women, is still misunderstood -- even at this late date,” she says.

McKenzie has weathered even bigger storms before. Her androgynous African American “Jesus of the People” painting caused international controversy when Sister Wendy of PBS chose it to represent Christ in the new millennium.

Critics focus on the content of McKenzie’s art, but her outstanding artistic style is one reason that her work attracts attention. The Vermont artist uses drawing and line with oils to build images that glow. Her painting technique and pastel colors are reminiscent of American Impressionist Mary Cassatt, who is famous for painting intimate scenes of mothers and their children.

The controversy over McKenzie’s work is a reminder of the power of art, and the continuing need for progressive spiritual images. Opposition seems to fuel her passion to paint. “We all need to find ourselves included within the sacred journey of life, and afterlife,” McKenzie says. “I have been surprised to find archaic and out-dated hate still in place, still alive and well and fueled by fear, in response to some of my art. I have made the decision to respond to such hate not in the way it comes to me, but by creating ever more inclusive art that confronts prejudice and hate. The only path open to any of us is the one of love.”

McKenzie’s art is featured in my book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” and her book “Holiness and the Feminine Spirit.”

(Special thanks to Barbara Marian for permission to quote from her article “Recasting the Magi.”)


“The Epiphany: Wisemen Bring Gifts to the Child”

Queer gifts

Father William Hart McNichols paints another kind of queer Epiphany. McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Roman Catholic priest whose gay-positive icons have caused controversy. He worked at an AIDS hospice in New York City from 1983-90, when many in the gay community were dying of the disease. During that period he painted “The Epiphany: Wisemen Bring Gifts to the Child.”

St. Francis and St. Aloysius are the wise men visiting the baby Jesus in this icon.  Instead of the usual gold, frankincense and myrrh, the “gifts” they bring to the Christ child are people with AIDS, perhaps gay men. The baby Jesus reaches eagerly to receive these gifts. The child and his mother appear in a form popular in Mexico and other Latino cultures as Our Lady of Guadalupe and El Santo Niño de Atocha. The halo around them echoes the colors of the rainbow flag of the LGBT community. McNichols offers a prayer with this icon:

Dearest Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Mother of the poor and the oppressed,
we watch full of reverence
and joy as St. Francis and
St. Aloysius bring the gifts of
these two people afflicted with AIDS
to the Holy Child in your arms,
who is so eager to receive them.
Teach us to find and embrace
your Son Jesus in all peoples,
but most especially those who
are in greatest need and
who suffer most.
Amen

In closing, the question arises: What gifts are queer people bringing today to Christ, the church and the world?
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Related links:

LGBTQ Nativity 4: Queer Magi visit Mary, Josephine and Jesus

Nursing Madonna honors body, spirit and women

“Wise Women Also Came” and Women’s Christmas by Jan Richardson

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This post is part of the LGBT Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to LGBT and queer people of faith and our allies.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts